Decimal Diaspora: Ten Exiles and a Medieval Construction of Jewish History
Decimal Diaspora: Ten Exiles and a Medieval Construction of Jewish History

Decimal Diaspora: Ten Exiles and a Medieval Construction of Jewish History

Decimal Diaspora: Ten Exiles and a Medieval Construction of Jewish History.
Carsten L. Wilke

1 Students of exilic communities are familiar with the fact that no less than the possession of a common homeland, its loss can be a factor of social cohesion. Rites and representations in this case commemorate defeats instead of victories, victimhood instead of triumphalism, uprooting instead of founding events. Narratives of dispossession challenge collective self-esteem intensely, but at the same time enhance solidarity by reducing competition for wealth (as no spoils of victory have to be distributed), by manifesting the urgency of personal commitment to the group, and by providing individuals with a shared redemptive hope. What has been called “victimhood nationalism”1 is not a direct translation of historical trauma into ideology, but remains to a large extent a matter of cultural choice and free elaboration. The memorial topography of Budapest, for instance, offers two main alternatives: Heroes’ Square enumerates the glories of successful state building (896, 1686, and 1867), whereas Kossuth Square narrates the nation through its tragic failures (1708, 1849, 1920, and 1956). Both “available pasts”2 appear as distinct and yet interwoven in national mythology. As the current remodeling of the commemorative cityscape shows, aborted founding events often garner an easier consensus than the realized ones3.
2 The Jews, sometimes said to be “in love with their losses”4, have been described as the model case of a group that throughout its ancient, medieval, and modern history has defined itself by reference to past suffering5 and, more exactly, by the spatio-temporal construction of a community in exile. The Biblical plot evolves around the ideas of collective expulsion, temporary exile, and a future ingathering to Jerusalem, the native city, endowed with features of a mystical bride6; and this collective version of the Odyssey has shaped the Jewish view of history from its very beginnings until this day. The idea that the Jewish people was “deported by brute force from its land” is expressed in the 1948 Proclamation of the State of Israel, with the subtly gendered

expansion that the people (masculine in Hebrew) stayed faithful to the land (feminine) in all the lands of its (“his”) dispersion7.
3 Other ancient civilizations have intensely reflected the exilic situation, but it always remained an anomaly8; Jewish identity, on the contrary, is exilic to such an extent that pre-modern European imagination mirrored it in the myth of the Wandering Jew, the uncanny wayfarer moving outside the limits of time and space. Jacob Neusner presents Jewish exilic consciousness as a remarkable cultural creation, “the one statement that Judaism – despite it all – has made to all humanity” and that deserves to be discovered and reflected upon in a global age. Encapsulated in the exile pattern is “theory of human existence, an account of meaning in an otherwise senseless existence of accident and happenstance”9. Although the Jewish narrative of exile and redemption became the model for the numerous imagined histories of modern nationalism, it is profoundly anchored in an apolitical worldview that theologically unifies the ideas of God’s infinite control and human responsibility. The individual carries a responsibility for the course of history through his or her sinning or repenting; the messianic and holistic horizon confining these actions also marks “the beginning of a long devaluation of political life”, Michael Walzer writes. “The middle ground of political commitment and autonomous action, the prosaic but necessary world of ‘small things’ slowly fades from view”10.
4 Post-modernity, with its interest in migrants and its avoidance of essentialist categories, treated the uprooted situation as no less than the basic characteristic of Jewishness, but gave it a positive value. Jewishness, inversely, became the very symbol of exile, with all of its connotations of marginality, liminality, displacement, and uprootedness, but also intellectual independence. This idea was enshrined in a word by Jean-François Lyotard when, in his book on Heidegger and “the jews”, he wrote “Jew” with a minuscule, creating a generic term for “the Forgotten” covering any uprooted, wandering “hostages”11, or, as his editor explains on the back cover, all “artists, anarchists, blacks, homeless, Arabs, etc.”.
5 Scholars in Jewish Studies have protested against this generalization of “the jew” that precludes any reference to the cultural difference and historical specificity of Jewish existence12. It may even open the way to a form of identity theft akin to the Verus Israel argumentation of the Church Fathers13. If in Christian use “the Jew” is a trope for the faithful, then we may end up calling the Christians true Jews and Jews true infidels. It is therefore no paradox that once the metaphysical “jewish condition” was thought to be exilic by definition, the historical Jewish exile was deconstructed.
6 In calculated iconoclasm towards a well-enshrined element of Jewish memory, Israel J. Yuval insisted on the point that the ancient diaspora cannot be reduced to a sudden catastrophe of deportation by the Romans14. The argumentation was radicalized in an international best-seller by Shlomo Sand, who denied present-day Jews any biological or cultural link with their namesakes in ancient Palestine. The Jewish diaspora derives from different proselyte communities that started to invoke imaginary Levantine origins under the influence of nineteenth-century nationalist ideology, with a special impact exerted by Heinrich Graetz, whose influential essay “The Construction of Jewish History” (1843) laid the Hegelian basis of what should become his monumental History of the Jews. Sand, an Israeli leftist, starts from the hope that the Zionist-Arab conflict would be solved if one of the competing nationalisms could simply be discarded as illegitimate15.

7 However unworkable Sand’s historical thesis and political roadmap may be16, his main question merits being asked in a less polemical pitch: when and how did Jewish demographic dispersion come to be interpreted as an exile in meta-historical terms? This mere aspect of chronology leads to two striking paradoxes. Firstly, the concept of the exilic nation was present before any exile actually took place; and secondly, it was only belatedly adapted to the actual diaspora situation of Jews after the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans. I will focus on the second issue, but start with a few remarks on the first.
8 Jacob Neusner called the Jewish notions of exile and return a “self-fulfilling prophecy” and alleged them to be a striking example of how “religion shapes the world, not the world, religion”17. The Biblical representations of exile emerged under the conditions of the 8th century BCE, when King Tiglat Phaleser III launched the Assyrian invasion of the northwestern Semitic region. The Assyrians systematically weakened the conquered countries by commanding population exchanges. In the course of half a century (745-701 BCE), this policy of ethnic mixing led to the virtual disappearance of the Levantine kingdoms and city-states except the inexpugnable Jerusalem18.
9 Even before the Assyrian attack reached the northern kingdom of Israel, the prophets Hosea and Amos announced the impending exile as the punishment meted out against cultic deviance and social injustice19. The religious discourse on deportation preceded the actual deportations one generation later, when the Jerusalem prophets Micah and Isaiah announced exile as the most intense vision of divine punishment, and return as the essence of redemption. The Judean Prophets presented the foreign empire as God’s instrument to chastise the unfaithful descendants of the sacred community created by the Sinai covenant. The threat of exile thus created a hostile, but coherent order of space and time, a balance of power and justice.
10 Part of the rich literary symbolism of exile that can be found in the prophets’ speeches is due to later redactional interventions, developed after the Jerusalem priests and aristocracy were deported to Babylon in 587 BCE. They correspond ideologically to the exilic and post-exilic Pentateuchal portions – the so-called Priestly Code – where national existence appears as precarious and conditional, entirely dependent on religious loyalty, and the land as a divine gift and uncertain possession that any new or past sin can endanger20. The poetic imagery of the Babylonian captivity as a founding catastrophe is compelling: the Lamentations of Jeremiah have remained a central liturgical text ever since.
11 History as a tool of moral improvement is condensed in a parable taken from family law. The covenant between God and Israel is an allegorical marriage; transgression means adultery, exile is repudiation, and return conjugal reconciliation. Exile is declined by gender. According to the famous Homerian quote, “a man loses half of his virility when reduced to slavery”21. Depicted as an inherently feminine experience, the Biblical gola, “exile”, becomes a phase in an allegorical conjugal drama in all its emotional implications as well as in its physical intensity. The abstract noun, derived from the verb galah, meaning “to lay bare” (a body), “to reveal” (a truth), or “to exile” (a people), conveys the idea of a country stripped of its inhabitants, but the Biblical prophets frequently use the word as a pun implying the semantic dimensions of shameful nakedness. This was more than just a metaphor: Isaiah repeatedly reflects the Assyrian custom of humiliating prisoners of war by parading them naked22. Various prophetic texts apply this aggressive exhibition to a woman victim in an allegorization

that does not seem warranted by the military customs of the time, but belongs to the public opprobrium of adulteresses23. By menacingly presenting the city as a defiled captive, this imaginative feminization of the gola motif expresses an iconoclastic fury against the goddess of the polis; it focuses its meaning on the moral lesson when it unfolds the adultery plot24. The prophets of the Babylonian exile, Ezekiel and the Deutero-Isaiah, evoke an ambivalent situation in which the exile/exhibition of the wretched captive dishonors her, but also reactivates instincts of protection and even desire on the side of her enraged husband. The spatio-temporal order of displacement thus comes full circle, leading towards a future of renewed prosperity of the mother city in her obedience to the patriarchal god25.
12 The marriage allegory did not lend itself easily to appropriation under the changed exilic situations of Classical antiquity. Contrary to the ancient Oriental displacement of enemy elites, the Greek and Roman mass enslavements systematically broke up collectivities and entailed a loss of personal status. The Jewish claim of having descended from runaway slaves was not a recommendation at a time when it was dishonoring to be a forced migrant, but honorable to be a settler and colonizer. Migration through enslavement had feminine, migration-through-colonization masculine undertones. Following the Septuagint, which translated the Hebrew gola, “exile”, by apoikía, “colony”, Philo applied the notions of Greek colonial expansion to the Jewish diaspora of his time. The branching out of the Jews is linked to their cosmopolitan spirit and to the universal significance of their faith. From the book of Tobit, 13:3-4, diaspora implies the proselytizing and ingathering of the heathen, a view that has its parallel in an aphorism by Rabbi Eliezer in the Talmud26. Far from being a shame, diaspora is a divine grace, conferring physical protection (as the dispersion of Israel renders its total destruction impossible) and ideological power.
13 The Midrash, the Hebrew exegetic literature written in late antique Palestine, insisted simultaneously upon the enduring holiness of the Land and on the fact that the religious laws were also binding in the unclean world outside its borders27. A Midrashic tradition, attributed alternatively to the second-century teachers, Rabbi Akiba and Rabbi Shim‘on ben Yohai, explains this obligation with the idea that the Divine Presence (shekhina), the feminized aspect of God, has moved from its former place in the Jerusalem Temple beyond the borders of the Land of Israel. God’s Presence accompanied the Israelites in their wanderings to Egypt, Babylonia, Persia, and Rome and will be with them in their future return to Jerusalem. The Biblical proof texts of these five divine wanderings are read as highly sophisticated Hebrew puns: “I revealed myself [or: went into exile] in Egypt” (1 Sam. 2:27); “For your sake I sent [or: was sent off] to Babylonia” (Isa. 47:14); “I put my throne in Elam” (Jer. 49:38), “Who is coming from Edom?” (Jer. 63:1); “your God will restore [or: return with] your captives (Deut. 30:3)28. But this succession of exiles fit into no meaningful arithmetic count.
14 Whether forced or peaceful, all past and present emigrations are thus put on the same footing. In particular, the parallel between the two Temple destructions by the Babylonians and the Romans was made early on and found its liturgical expression in the fact that both are said to have occurred on the same date, the ninth of Ab29. But if the destructions of two successive temples by the paradigmatic enemies of the Jews – Babylon and Rome30 – mirror each other, the exiles do not. We look in vain in Late Antique Judaism for the idea that the destruction of the year 70 had disrupted Jewish

existence in the Land of Israel and that a new diasporic era had now started to which the Biblical myth of exile and return could be applied31.
15 The demographic consequences of the two “exiles” were indeed too different to suggest such a parallel. If the rabbis taught that the Babylonian deportation was so complete that for 52 years no man passed through Judea32, the Roman deportation had visibly left many Jews behind. Palestine, more precisely Galilee, still housed important communities until the Arab conquest, it had splendid synagogues and rabbinic schools, which saw themselves as the enduring center of the Jewish world and had no interest in proclaiming that the latter had recently entered an exilic stage. There was no deportation of elites en-bloc in 70 CE as there had been in 587 BC. Although at least eight important mass enslavements of Jews from Jerusalem took place between the diadochi and Hadrian33, these did not interrupt the Jewish presence in Palestine and did not even preclude a degree of regeneration and prosperity under Christian rule. The demographic collapse of this Jewish center and the transformation of the Jews into an almost entirely diasporic nation was a long process that extended through most of the second half of the first millennium CE. Its main causes were not deportations, but climate change, plagues, and earthquakes, Byzantine legal discrimination, the Persian and Arab wars of the seventh century, subsequent Islamic taxation and land redistribution, and finally the rise of new centers in Mesopotamia, North Africa, and Europe that allowed a less burdensome Jewish life34.
16 The ancient Midrash tends to blur the distinction between the ideas of subjugation and deportation inherent in the gola concept, which was assimilated to the messianic topos of the four kingdoms developed in the second and seventh chapter of Daniel, if not to the idea of a damaged condition of the entire world35. The rabbis upheld a notion of gola which does not necessarily imply the idea of a one-time deportation, but may mean oppression (shi‛abud) by successive empires: Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome.36 Exile was not so much a spatial but a political concept referring to a time of foreign domination; redemption would not mean primarily the ingathering of exiles, but the reestablishment of the Davidian royal dynasty. Roman domination was a foreign and hostile overlordship, which, however, had not uprooted Israel from its land. The extent of the land’s holiness and the validity of the Bible’s agricultural laws are eternally determined by the returnees from the Babylonian exile, because, after Joshua and Ezra, “you will not have a third inheritance.”37
17 The Tannaites did not disparage the pains of exile – on the contrary. “Exile is hard, it outweighs all other hardships combined”, teaches one Midrash aphorism, and another exegetic collection insists on this idea all the more as Jews were not only displaced but also dispersed. The same Midrash interprets the verse: “you will be lost among the heathen” to the effect that “there is no greater loss than exile.”38 If the early rabbis thus structured history by invoking non-Jewish kingdoms, not Jewish deportations, this does not imply that exile was unknown or irrelevant to them, but that their worldview was still staunchly Palestinocentric.
18 For late antique Jews, the theologically most problematic “exile” was the loss of the Temple. A legitimizing tradition of the rabbinical academy of Tiberias, attributed to its founder, R. Yohanan bar Nappacha (d. 279 CE), explains that shortly before the Babylonians destroyed the sanctuary, the Shekhina retracted gradually in ten steps from it, gained the uninhabited world and finally Heaven. Correspondingly, the Jewish supreme council, the Sanhedrin, likewise moved in ten steps from its original seat on

the Temple plateau through different places in Palestine and finally to the city of Tiberias, and “from there will they be redeemed in the future.”39 Basing themselves on Biblical precedents such as the Ten Commandments or the Ten Plagues, the Tiberias rabbis use ten as the number of the full measure, most prominently in the doctrine of the Ten Words of Creation, the commemoration of the “Ten Martyrs” (the rabbis executed under Hadrian) and the law on the ten men demanded for the prayer quorum. As in Late Antique neo-pythagoreanism, the divine decade, Brach sums up, “synthesizes, achieves and perfects all things in the universe; it the complement to unity of which it is the ultimate expansion with the integration of all the intermediary numbers. It is called ‘All’, ‘Destiny’ or ‘necessity’.”40 Even though a direct Pythagorean influence may be difficult to prove41, the decimal number in rabbinic tradition has the same function of transforming calamity into order. As a providentializing device, the number ten is used with respect to the movements of the rabbinic schools inside the land of Israel, but not with respect to emigration. The Midrash on the exiles of the Shekhina had a theory of emigration integrated into its Palestinocentric conception; the main difficulty was making good the lack of the Temple.
19 Stressing the turning point of the year 70 would not only have contradicted the sense of honor by establishing a link to the ignominious Biblical complex of captivity and deportation. It would also have validated Christian historical theology, which created a causal link between the crucifixion, the destruction of the Second Temple 27 years later, and the current diaspora. In the dominant Christian tradition, that is, at the basis of the account of Jewish history given by Eusebius of Caesarea (c.260-340)42, Jewish exile is not interpreted as a process, but as an event, most commonly identified with the deportation of 97,000 Jews and their sale in slave markets of the Roman Empire according to Josephus Flavius43, whose medieval reception remained limited to the Christian world.
20 Parallel to Eusebius’ propagandistic chronology, his rabbinic contemporaries discussed and anthologized their traditions about the Temple destruction, the subjugation, and the displacement of the Jerusalemites in the year 70. The chapter in the Babylonian Talmud dedicated to the matter44 is mainly attributed to Rab Juda bar Ezekiel (d. 299), according to the Talmud, at the Mesopotamian academy of Pumbedita. It is thus a diaspora perspective from which the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans is said to have led to a mass expulsion: “The power of Rome has destroyed our home and burnt our Temple and driven us out of our land”. Most of the ensuing deportation narratives, focusing on women and children, develop the threat of sexual abuse. The frivolous behavior the Talmud attributes to the Judean girls of Babylonian times, who are said to have shown their beauty in the streets in the hope of seducing enemy officers45, contrasts with the heroic decency that the women of Jerusalem maintained in the face of the lecherous Roman conquerors. In the opening story, Jewish youths transported on a slave ship commit suicide by the hundreds when they realize that they are destined for sexual slavery, the girls leaping first into the sea, the boys imitating them. A number of similar suicide stories suggest martyrdom rather than survival in exile as the appropriate reaction to impending defilement46. Still in the early Middle Ages under the beginning of Islamic power, the plot of gola, exile/exhibition, is invoked only in order to let it culminate in extermination. R. Josua ben Levi writes: “When the evil Nebuchadnezzar deported Israel to Babylon, their hands were tied behind their backs with iron chains, and they led them naked like beasts”. On their

way, the Ishmaelites hypocritically helped them with salted bread without water, so that the Israelites died of thirst47.
21 In only a spiritual sense is the present diaspora community the heir of the Jerusalemites of the Second Temple because all of them are believed to have chosen martyrdom. The gendered character of exile calls for a solution in which the woman martyr in her steadfastness is a spiritual ancestor of the present diaspora community; she cannot be a biological ancestor in a potentially hybrid union. The same solution is apparent in the Yosippon, a book of legends on Jewish history completed in 953 in Southern Italy. The author states that Jews survived in Yavne, Betar, and Usha, but that the defenders of Jerusalem all died during the Romans’ final assault. The author transports the Massada suicide story to Jerusalem and affirms that during the night before the city fell, the high priest called upon the remaining Jews to kill their women and children and then to fight unto death, vowing that:
we shall not be bound with fetters and iron chains like slaves by the pagans, and we will not see our old men drawn by their beards before our eyes, and our wives and daughters raped in our presence, and our children cry towards us while we are unable to help them. What keeps us still in our lives, after our land is devastated and our temple destroyed, so that we will be the scorn, scoff and derision to the pagans?48
22 Only in this oblique way does the Jewish narrative on the origins of the diaspora refer to Vespasian’s Roman slaves, visibly because captivity was tantamount to slavery, slavery with miscegenation, and miscegenation endangered the continuity or, at least the honor of, the group. Between the laws of Ezra against taking foreign wives and the rabbinical law about the transmission of Jewish identity from the mothers’ side, family purity became the domain of mothers and is therefore threatened by the imagination of captivity. This connotation is patent in the case of the foundation myth that a medieval Christian chronicler gives to the Jewish community of Worms. Men from a local Germanic tribe participated in Vespasian’s campaign and were allowed to take home Jewish girls as their slaves; the children they fathered among this servile workforce became the later Jewish community49. Again, the idea of an ignominious form of hybridity linked to the feminine character of exile is forestalled in the Jewish version, which refers to a male colonist of the Carolingian period.
23 Yet Jewish tradition ended up developing a mythical chronology that let the diaspora begin with the deportation at the time of the Temple destruction. When, how, and why did this Christian tradition of the caesura in 70 take root in Judaism? In his study on medieval Jewish historical consciousness, Ram Ben-Shalom stresses the fact that the early medieval Babylonian and the Spanish Jews attributed their diaspora to Nebuchadnezzar and downplayed the importance of the Roman deportations50. A significant turn in their self-perception took place, however, during the Christian reconquest of Spain in the twelfth century. The Christian-Jewish debate at that time underwent a reorientation due to a new Christian interest in history. For centuries, Christians had affirmed that the Biblical promise of the ingathering was an allegory of the hereafter, but they now took it literally and affirmed that the promise was already accomplished by the Ezra’s return from the Babylonian exile. Thus, on the Jewish side there was an apologetic necessity to show that most Biblical prophecies pointed to a worldwide exile, the one brought about by the Romans. In 1161, the chronicler Abraham Ibn Daud affirmed that the Jews were exiled to Rome under Vespasian and to Spain under Titus. An editor of the Sefer Yosippon reported that among the Spanish

Jews, at least those of Cartagena, Mérida, and Seville were descended from the Roman, not the Babylonian, exiles. Isaac Abravanel’s Bible commentary of 1483 teaches that Nebuchadnezzar deported Jews to Toledo, Vespasian deported them to Rome, and Hadrian again sent them to Spain51. In 1553, Samuel Usque reintegrated the Josephus tradition of the 97 000 deportees into Jewish historiography; and when he copied the contrasting Josippon narration on the mass suicide, he shifted the scene from Jerusalem back to Massada52.
24 The new Jewish exilic consciousness, as I will argue here, meant replacing gender by number as the organizing principle of history. Jewish histories of exile treated the turning point of 70 CE in a way significantly different from the Christians, as they integrated it into a cyclical scheme in which enemies, wanderings, and deportations could succeed each other in a rationally understandable repetition53. This meant to overcome the hitherto dominating alternative of defilement and martyrdom, as neither tribulation can be repeated. Female honor, just as life, is only lost once; a homeland can be lost and recovered repeatedly. The Pirqe de-Rabbi Eliezer, a Midrashic work of the eighth century, reconverts the four kingdoms into four exiles and expects prophecy to revert to Israel during the fourth kingdom, just as it started with Moses and Aaron during the first exile in Egypt54.
25 The arithmetic of exiles is also the central feature of a text that may seem like a striking exception to Ben-Shalom’s rule; well before the twelfth century, it stresses the centrality of the Vespasian deportations for Jewish history. It is a short but interesting Midrash from the early Middle Ages, the “Midrash of the Ten Exiles” (Midrash ‛eser ha- galuyot), which organizes Jewish history according to the idea of ten deportations: four by the Assyrians, four by the Babylonians, and two by the Romans. This text has rarely been studied, but frequently edited; as is normally the case with the lesser Midrashic literature, there are several (exactly seven) text versions which differ considerably among themselves55.
26 It is interesting to see that the printed history of this text has been Christian rather than Jewish for a long time56. The first edition was prepared in 1529 by the Hebraist Sebastian Münster with a Latin translation57, which was translated into English and often reprinted58. The text most commonly studied among Jews was edited only in 1857 by a Viennese rabbi, Adolf Jellinek59, followed by an edition with a commentary on the same recension by Eleazar Grünhut in 189960.
27 The small Midrash first details the four campaigns of the Assyrians and enumerates the tribes that were vanquished and deported each time. There is a certain rhythmic structure in the calamity, as deportations one to four are separated by intervals of seven, seven, three, and a hundred and three years, respectively. When reporting on the four Babylonian campaigns, the author becomes a quantitative demographer; he specifies the number of those deported and killed during the first three campaigns, namely, 10 023, 11 600, 60 000, whereas 211 000 were killed in Jerusalem alone. Some of the data is gleaned from the Biblical reports, but most of the statistical information is twisted out of the text by calculations of the numerical value of certain Hebrew words appearing in them.
28 The author subsequently gives a chronological timetable for the years of the second temple and concludes with a surprisingly short description of the two Roman deportations, followed by a messianic vow:

And emperor Vespasianus went up with his wife’s son Titus, and they destroyed the Second Temple and deported Israel to Rome. This is the ninth exile. And Betar stayed on for 52 years after the destruction of the temple, and Hadrian came, may his bones be ground, and exiled Israel from it and devastated it and deported them to Rome. This is the tenth captivity. And it is said about them: ‘the captivity of the children of Israel that are with the Kanaanites until France’ (Obadiah 20), and as He ordered exile over them, so has He sworn to bring them back, as it is said, ‘and they will no more say, the Lord is alive who brought the children of Israel up from the land of Egypt, but: the Lord is alive who brought the descendence of the house of Israel up and back from the north and from all the countries where they had been dispersed’ (Jeremiah 16:14-15)61.
29 Münster’s text, which ends here, does not mention France, but Spain, in the final blessing. Jellinek’s manuscript of the Midrash, visibly written in France, adds a short legend. When 60 000 descendents of Moses, who had been harpists in the Temple, sat near the rivers of Babylon and were ordered to sing, they refused and in order to prevent anyone from forcing them to do so, they bit off their own fingertips62 and then said: “How can we sing the song of the Lord in a foreign land?” (Ps. 137:4) God protected them from their enemies and led them from Babylon behind the river of Sambation, but the Temple music was lost forever.
30 A group of three manuscripts, held respectively in Paris63, London64 and Rome 65,
continue the story of the children of Moses. The text narrates in detail how the ten deported tribes ultimately made their way to the miraculous Sambation River and what became of Moses’ offspring there. These additional textual elements exist separately in other Midrashic compilations66, and it seems at first sight that they were simply aggregated. However, the eighth extant version of the Midrash gives an unexpected turn to the question of the textual history. It has become a chapter in the Chronicle of Yerahmeel, a compilation of legends attributed to the mid-twelfth-century Italian author Yerahmeel ben Solomon, and preserved in a fourteenth-century reworking. This text, although generally more complete and more explicit than the other manuscripts, describes only eight exiles: the accounts of the two Roman deportations are missing. However, this version has all the additions of the manuscript tradition concerning the Sambation River and the children of Moses. These texts even fit well here, as they narrate the aftermath of the eighth captivity67.
31 Michael Ish-Shalom, about half a century ago, concluded that the original form of the Midrash, which was known by the end of the ninth century, must have contained a symmetrical account of the four Assyrian and the four Babylonian captivities and ended with the adventures of the exiles. The short reference to the two Roman captivities was only added at a later period. It was inserted where the original text, describing the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians, mentions in passing that this happened on Ab 9, as would the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans. With this intercalation, the appendices on the Sambation and the children of Moses appeared out of context and were subsequently dropped. By destroying the textual coherence, the redactor created a narrative coherence in Jewish history. As is often the case, the textus receptus published by Münster and Jellinek is the most altered version of all those we possess.
32 It is now possible to determine the approximate time at which the amplification of the Midrash from eight to ten exiles took place. On the one hand, the scanty text of the two Roman exiles is identical with a passage in Abraham Ibn Daud’s mid-twelfth-century chronicle, Divre Malkhe Yisrael, and may have been taken from this source68; on the

other hand, the title Midrash of the Ten Exiles is quoted from the second half of the thirteenth century onwards. This yields a time frame of 1150 to 1250 for the intervention in the Midrash text; what seemed at first glance to contradict Ben- Shaloms dating of the exile stereotype confirms it exactly.
33 Moving from eight to ten exiles introduced a significant semantic change; the decimal order applied to the movements of the academies in Palestine after the destruction of the Temple was now transferred to the diaspora outside the Land. Exile lost its dreadful connotation by being integrated in a story and a count. The scientific disenchantment of statistics holds disaster at a distance. It is accompanied by the re-gendering of exile, the victim of which is no longer presented as a feminine allegory, the “Virgin Zion” or the Divine Presence, but as a masculine elite, the singing sons of Moses.
34 More exactly, exile is no longer declined by gender at all, but by number. Where the Talmud narrates individual stories of defiled women and qualifies their sufferings, the early medieval Midrash basically quantifies times, places, and human groups. Making the interpretation of exile an event rather than a process allowed to provincialize the catastrophe inside the succession of clearly delimitated Jewish exiles: the Egyptian of 480 years ending with the Exodus, the Babylonian of 70 years ending with Cyrus’ edict, and the Roman, which was longer, but ended as it started; at a certain moment in time. Diaspora could be seen as a long, but not unprecedented, ingredient of national history. It was, in any case, under numerical control.
35 Here is not the place to address the important reception that the idea of the ten exiles of the Shekhina had in medieval mysticism. The Zohar narrated the disharmony between God and His Presence, followed by His dispersion in the ten divine powers or sefirot69. But let the modern re-imagination of the historical timeline not be forgotten. According to an oral tradition, the Lithuanian Talmudist, Hayyim of Volozhin (1749-1821), updated the list of the ten Torah exiles by naming Babylon, North Africa, Egypt, Italy, Spain, France, Germany, Poland, and Lithuania as the first nine destinations; he expected America to become the tenth and last one70. Avraham Yeshaya Karlitzer (1878-1953), the “Hazon Ish”, endorsed this interpretation, according to the testimony of Kalman Zeev Kahana (1910-1991)71. Rabbi Joseph Dov Soloveitchik (1903-1993) of New York likened the diaspora to the goat that was sacrificed on Yom Kippur by being thrown off a cliff in the desert (Num. 16:21); it was taken there successively through ten huts serving as stations of rest, the ten exiles of the Jews72. The Hassidic sect of Habad claims ten exiles for their own itinerary, which brought them to Brooklyn from the village of Lyubavichi in Belarus73. Present-day interpretations in devotional literature and on the internet systematize the persecutors of the Jews in a succession of preferably ten elements leading from the Pharaoh of old to Stalin and Hitler74. All history, not excluding the enormity of the Holocaust, can be narrated, even counted, and located inside a progression from one to ten.
36 Scholarly debate has been overly intrigued by the question of whether or not this scheme does relate Jewish history “correctly”. It seems no less worthy of inquiry to me why twelfth-century chroniclers and their readers adopted Titus’ and Hadrian’s slave cohorts as their imagined ancestors. Not unlike the choice of the Exodus ancestry by the ancient Judeans, the identification with a few throngs of deportees and the transformation of a Palestinian into an exilic consciousness belongs to the creative processes by which medieval Jewry reacted to its Europeanization, brought about by the collapse of its center in Muslim Spain at the time of the Almohad and Christian

conquests. No doubt these shifting self-representations fail to meet the criteria of racial homogeneity and semantic petrification that historians such as Shlomo Sand demand from legitimate national identities, but fortunately few existing nationalities live up to these severe criteria75. As to Judaism, it has generated itself historically; in Jacob Neusner’s expression, as a succession of “Israels”, passing from a centered to a dispersed order and successively espousing philosophical, cultic, ethnic, and political parameters on its later way76. Even the seemingly stable ingredients of its identity, the guiding ideas of monotheism and exile, are not simply derived from the biblical sources, but always framed by the historically available pool of meaningful pasts, mediated by the hermeneutic tradition and conditioned by competing memorial constructions. This reliance on transmission overwrites some sharp discontinuities and contradictions of cultural creation. Indeed we end up, in the case of this diasporic topos, by imagining a people uprooted from spatiotemporal frameworks and, at the same time, centered upon intensely locative symbols such as the Temple, the City, the Land, or the very loss of it all.


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1. Lim, “Victimhood Nationalism…”; Idem, “Transnational History…”. The present article is a revised version of a lecture presented on August 21, 2011 at the conference Flight and Emigration in Medieval Space and Mind held at Gryka e Valbones (Albania).
2. On this term, see Brubaker, Ethnicity without Groups…, p. 172.
3. Máté Zombory, Traumatársadalom, speaks of a “trauma society” generated by memory politics on a national or global scale.
4. Ophir, “The Identity of the Victims…”, p. 178.
5. Benbassa, Suffering as Identity…
6. Isaiah 62:5 (KJV): “For as a young man marrieth a virgin, so shall thy sons marry thee: and as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee.”
English The .לאחר שהוגלה העם מארצו בכוח הזרוע שמר לה אמונים בכל ארצות פזוריו 7.
translation, published in The Palestine Post, May 16, 1948, p. 1, is less affirmative: “Exiled from Palestine, the Jewish people remained faithful to it in all the countries of their dispersion.”
8. Doblkofer, Exil und Emigration…; Prade, “Ovidius in the ‛Wilderness…”.
9. Neusner, Self-Fulfilling Prophecy…, p. 222; Gruen, Diaspora…, pp. 354-356; Id., The Construct of Identity…, pp. 283-312. ch. 13 “Diaspora and Homeland…”, esp. 284-285.
10. Walzer, Exilpolitik, 86, 88. Reprinted in Idem, In God’s Shadow…, pp. 109-125.
11. Lyotard, Heidegger and “the jews”…, [1988], p. 3.
12. Boyarin, “Diaspora…”; Raz-Krakotzkin, “Exile within Sovereignty…”, and the reply by Rosman, How Jewish is Jewish History, pp. 126-127.
13. Simon, Verus Israel….
14. Yuval, “The Myth of the Jewish Exile…”.
15. Sand, The Invention…, see especially pp. 129-143.
16. See the critical review by Shapira, “The Jewish-People Deniers…”.
17. Neusner, “Exile and Return…”, p. 225.
18. Oded, Mass Deportations…
19. Amos 1:5; 1:15; 5:5; 6:7; 7:11.17; 9:4.
20. Leviticus 26:33; Deuteronomy 4:27; pp. 28:64-65.
21. Odyssey XVII, pp. 322-323; Welskopf, “Einige Probleme der Sklaverei…”, p. 326.
22. Isaiah 7: 20; 20:2-4; Beyer, “Nudity and Captivity…”.
23. Hosea 2:5.12; Micah 1:11; Isaiah 3,17; Nahum 2:8; 3:5; Jeremiah 13:26; Lamentations 2:14.21-22;
Ezechiel 16:37; 23:29; Isaiah 47:2-3; 2 Chronicles 28,15. See Klein, “Uncovering the Nymphomaniac…”.
24. Hosea 2:12; Jeremiah 13:26; Ezekiel 23:10.26.29; see: Bourguet, Des métaphores de Jérémie, pp. 477-484.
25. Ezekiel 16; Isaiah 40:1-12; 49:14-26; 51:17-52,9; 54:1-17.
26. bPesahim 87b; see: Gafni, “Jewish Dispersion…”; Niehoff, Philo…, pp. 17-44, chapter “Jewish Descent: Mothers and Mothercities…”; Seland, “Colony…”.
27. mKelim 1,6; tAvoda Zara 4,3; bKetubbot 111a.
28. Sifre Numbers, Beha’alotekha 84,2 (R. Akiba); bMegillah 29a (R. Shim‘on ben Yohai); see: Porton, “The Idea of Exile…”.

29. tTaanit 3, 9.
30. Exodus Rabba 16, 6; Midrash Tehillim 7, 17 (71).
31. Milikowski, “Notions of Exile…”; cf. Sand, The Invention…, pp. 131-132.
32. Seder Olam, § 27.
33. Enslavements and deportations took place before Alexander’s time (Joel 3:3-6); in 314 BCE by Ptolemy (100,000 deportees to Egypt; Delcor, “Les allusions à Alexandre”, p. 117); in 198 by the Seleucids; in 168 BCE by Antiochus (women and children; 1 Maccabees 1:32; cf. 3:41 and 2
Maccabees 5:14. 24); in 63 BCE by Pompey (Philon, Legatio ad Gaium § 23 = 155); in 52-51 and in 43 by Cassius (Jos. Ant. Jud. XIV 120; Bell. Jud. I 180); in 70 CE by Titus and in 135 CE by Hadrian.
34. Schwartz, Imperialism…; Ribak, Religious Communities…; Stemberger, Juden und Christen….
35. Raz-Krakotzkin, “Jewish Memory…”, p. 532.
36. R. Natan speaks of oppressing kingdoms (Mekhilta, Yitro 9) and R. Joshua b. Levi on “exiles” (Genesis Rabba 16,4); see: Milikowsky, “Notions of Exile…”, pp. 272, 295. The number of kingdoms is extended to five, including either Egypt (Pesiqta Rabbati, XIV) or Ismael (Pirqe de-Rabbi Eliezer, § 27). Elsewhere, the number of kingdoms is developed into four pairs (Midrash Tehillim, VI).
37. Seder Olam, on Deuteronomy 30:5; see: Milikowski, “Notions of Exile…”, pp. 293-294.
38. Sifre, Eqev 43; Sifra, Behuqotai 6,6 and 8,1.
39. bRosh ha-Shana 31a-b, bKetubbot 103b.
40. Brach, La symbolique des nombres…, p. 29.
41. It is, for example, rejected by Urbach, «HaZa”L…, p. 174.
42. Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica, II, 6; III, 5-8.
43. Josephus, Bellum Judaicum 6,9; on context, see: Volkmann, Die Massenversklavungen…, pp. 183-184.
44. bGittin 57b-58a.
45. Leviticus Rabba 16,1; Lamentations Rabba 4; Pesiqta de-Rab Kahana 133.
46. Belser, “Sex in the Shadow of Rome…”.
47. Midrash Tanhuma, Yitro 5.
48. Josippon, last chapter (§ 97; ed. Berlin 1927, p. 193). On the medieval and modern transmission of this passage, see Feldman, “Not as Sheep…”.
49. Raspe, “Pride and Punishment…”, pp. 147-148.
50. Ben-Shalom, Mul Tarbut Notsrit…, p. 307; Idem, Medieval Jews…, p. 198.
51. Ben-Shalom, Mul Tarbut Notsrit…, p. 309; Idem, Medieval Jews…, p. 199, where the long footnote is not included.
52. Usque, Consolation for the Tribulations…, p. 150. On Usque’s sources, see Usque, Consolation aux tribulations…, pp. 561-562.
53. Schoenfeld, “You Will Seek From There…”.
54. Pirqe de-Rabbi Eliezer, § 8; Hacohen, Jacob & Esau…, p. 97.
55. Strack and Stemberger, Einleitung…, p. 304; Marks, The Image of Bar Kokhba…, 80-81; Ben- Shammai, “Qeta‘im…”; Ben-Dor Benite, The Ten Lost Tribes…, p. 78.
56. On Pico della Mirandola’s possible acquaintance with this text, see Zeldes, Reading Jewish History…, p. 86.
57. Münster, Compendium elegans historiarum Iosephi…, p. [348]-[361]; see: http://daten.digitale- sammlungen .de/bsb00012979/image_348. At the end of the prologue Ad lectorem (fol. A3r), Münster affirms that the Jews have lost “fatherland, people, temple and all holy objects. If you compare the two exiles, the Roman was much worse than the Babylonian and did not leave any hope of return; though these blinded men still hope they will return there and profit from some third temple, what they believe without any proof from the scripture”. Münster ends his anti- Zionist remarks with a short appeal for conversion.

58. Josephus Ben Gurion, The Wonderful and Most Deplorable History of the Latter Times of the Jews and of the City of Hierusalem. Beginning where the Holy Scriptures do end (London: John Stafford, 1652). Since the ed. of 1671, its title continues: Whereunto is Added a Brief of the Ten Captivities.
59. Jellinek, ed., Bet ha-Midrasch…, vol. IV, pp. 133-136 (from a ms. in possession of Marco Mortara of Mantua); V (Vienna: Winter, 1873), pp. 113-116 (from the ms. Munich 312, fol. 7b).
60. Grünhut, Sefer ha-Liqqutim…, vol. III, pp. 1-22.
61. Jellinek, Bet ha-Midrasch…, vol. IV, p. 136. Latin translation by Sebastian Münster, fol. Z4r-v, [359], [361].
62. On the context of this finger sacrifice, see Kugel, In the Valley of the Shadow…, pp. 196-197.
63. Paris BN heb. 837, “Eqtan de-Mar Jacob” by Eliakim Carmoly in Brussels, 1842 (p. 16-32), Whereas Steinschneider considers Carmoly’s text editions as the works of a miserable forger, Samuel Krausz gives them some credit – rightly so, as several of Carmoly’s additions appear also in the London manuscript.
64. London, British library, ms. 27,089, edited by Ish-Shalom, “Midrash Eser ha-Galuyot”, pp. 199-206.
65. Rome, Vatican Library, ebr. 99, 2, fol. 85a-90b (1480), unedited.
66. The Sambation episode has a parallel in Eldad ha-Dani and the descendants of Moses are the object of a short Agadatha de-Bene Moshe; cf. Jellinek, ed., Bet ha-Midrasch…, vol. VI, 1877, pp. 15-18; Reeves, Trajectories…, pp. 200-224; Knobler, “Prester John…”, p. 158.
67. Oxford, Bodleian Library, Ms. Heb. d. 11 (Neubauer 2797); see: Gaster, Chronicles of Yerahmeel…,
pp. 182-186.
68. Vehlow, Abraham Ibn Daud’s Dorot ‘Olam…, pp. 36-37; Ben-Shalom, Mul Tarbut Notsrit…, p. 309.
69. Zohar II 41b; 216b; III 77b; see Jacobs, A Jewish Theology…, p. 62.
70. Edrei, “Holocaust Memorial…”, pp. 83-86, with quotes from the “Hazon Ish” and Joseph Dov Soloveitchik.
71. Kahana, Ḥeqer wa‘iyyun…, p. 10.
72. Soloveitchik, Yemei Zikaron, p. 120.
73. Wexler and Rubin, “The Lower Half of the Globe…”, p. 292.
74. gives a “Full list of empires against the Jews”, running through fifteen, mostly modern, stations.
75. In his argumentation against the continuity of Jewish ethnicity, Sand admits that there were ancient modes of collective self-identification, but objects that these “did not always [!] bear the secular meaning with which they came to be imbued in modern times”, The Invention…, p. 129.
76. Neusner, Self-Fulfilling Prophecy…, p. 229.

The present article reviews religious constructions of Jewish diaspora History in their long-term evolution and discusses a midrashic text that hints at a historical turning-point in the 12th century. In the Antiquity, gendered metaphors were most commonly used to characterize the troubled relations between God, the Land, and the people of Israel. Early medieval conceptions speculated about the cyclical repetition of deportation events and other calamities. That meant that that number rather than gender became the dominant organizing principle of the historical narrative in the later period. Since the medieval “Midrash of the Ten Exiles” expresses this new

numerology most straightforwardly, the redactional history and literary context of this short text is the focus of this study.
O presente artigo analisa as construções religiosas da História da diáspora judaica na sua evolução a longo prazo e discute um texto do Midrash que aponta para um ponto de viragem histórico no século XII. Na Antiguidade, as metáforas de género eram mais comummente utilizadas para caracterizar as relações conturbadas entre Deus, a Terra de Israel, e o povo de Israel. As primeiras concepções medievais especulavam sobre a repetição cíclica de eventos de deportação e outras calamidades. Isso significou que esse número em vez do género se tornou o princípio organizador dominante da narrativa histórica no período posterior. Uma vez que o “Midrash dos Dez Exilios” medieval expressa esta nova numerologia de forma mais directa, a história da redacção e o contexto literário deste pequeno texto é o foco deste estudo.

Keywords: diaspora, exile, midrash, gender, numerology
Palavras-chave: diáspora, exílio, midrash, género, numerologia

Central European University,

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